On the Situation in Syria. Excerpt from V.V.Putin’s Answers During the Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum Plenary Session
Megyn Kelly: Shifting gears to Syria, our president has said that you are backing an evil guy there. He said that Assad is an evil guy. Do you believe that?
Vladimir Putin: What? That Assad is an evil person? Ask other leaders who have met him. After all, since he was elected, he has been to Europe more often than to Russia. We are not defending so much President Assad as Syrian statehood. We do not want Syria to be confronted with a situation similar to that in Libya or Somalia or Afghanistan, where NATO has been present for many years but the situation is not changing for the better.
We want to preserve [Syrian] statehood and once this fundamental matter is resolved, to move further towards settling the Syrian crisis by political means. Yes, perhaps everyone is to blame for something there. But let us not forget that if it were not for active intervention from the outside we would not have had the situation and the civil war that we are seeing now.
What does President Assad stand accused of today? We know about the charges of using chemical weapons. There is absolutely no proof. As soon as that happened we proposed conducting an inspection right there on the airfield from where President Assad’s aircraft had allegedly taken off with chemical weapons on board. I would like to reiterate because not everyone has heard this: if chemical weapons had been used, if some shells with toxic agents had been loaded, modern analysers, modern control systems would definitely have detected that there were chemical weapons there on board this aircraft, on that exact spot.
They declined. Nobody wants to. There is a lot of talk but no practical action. We proposed conducting an inspection in the area of the attack, “Let us see what there is.” No way again. “Why not?” “It is too dangerous there.” “What is so dangerous there if the strike was allegedly carried out against the good part of the armed opposition? These are normal people out there, why would they be dangerous?” “No, it is not possible there either.” However, it is known for certain that in Iraq (an Iraqi representative is present here, and we also welcome him), in Iraqi Kurdistan, militants used chemical weapons and that fact was established by the entire international community. Therefore, they have them. And judging by the statements made by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Syria has destroyed these weapons.
You see, if reasons and excuses are invoked, without any intention of looking into the essence of the problem, then one can talk about anything. Let us get down to the heart of the matter. Has Assad made mistakes? He probably has, and quite a few, too. Now, are the people who are up against him angels? Who is killing people, executing children and beheading people there? Are we supposed to support them?
As you know, we argued with our US colleagues until we were blue in the face about whether certain territories could be attacked. “No, that is off limits.” “Why?” “The healthy part of the opposition is based there.” We say: “But ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra are still there.” “Yes, but everything is intermingled there, so it is hard to understand who is where.” “Well, separate them then. What are decent, honest people doing with terrorists? Do you have control over them? Let them go and let us fight terrorists.” “No, do not touch them.” Why not? Should we wait until they come to you or to us? We will not. If you want to agree on something, let’s agree.
The Prime Minister is nodding because India is constantly confronted with the terrorist threat. It is not an imaginary problem. According to our preliminary estimate, there are 4,000 people from Russia alone in Syria, plus 4,500–5,000 from the CIS countries, mainly from Central Asia. It is a real threat to us. They are trying to return. Some are in fact returning. This is precisely why we began our operation in Syria, because we realised where things were headed. So, there should be no name-calling. Let us simply work together on the matter at hand. We are prepared for this. What is needed is a constructive position on your part.
Megyn Kelly: So, we know that Assad has used chemical weapons before, and Russia entered into an agreement in 2013 to stop that. I mean, Russia acknowledged that in 2013 to try to stop that by Assad. The only question is whether he launched the chemical weapons attack that happened a couple of months ago. And I just want to ask you, to press you a little further on this, because we all saw the video of the suffering, dying children, and that was the reason that President Trump dropped the bomb. Do you deny – because Assad denies that those tapes are real, he is purporting to tell us not to believe our lying eyes – do you believe those tapes are fake?
Vladimir Putin: Firstly, when President Obama and I agreed to work together on destroying chemical weapons in Syria, we acted on the premise that those weapons were out there. However, we have never acknowledged that Assad used them. I would ask you to be more accurate.
Secondly, regarding the people killed or injured as a result of the use of weapons, including chemical weapons, this is false information. At the moment, we are absolutely certain that it was simply a provocation. Assad did not use those weapons and all of that was done by people who wanted to blame it on him.
Furthermore, our intelligence services received additional information suggesting that there were plans to re-enact a similar scenario in other parts of Syria, including near Damascus. We made that information public. Thank God, the plotters had enough common sense not to follow through.
Megyn Kelly: If I could just follow up on that, though, because the bodies of the victims were autopsied at Turkey’s and our forensic medicine institution. The autopsies were witnessed by officials from the World Health Organisation and from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and they concluded that the victims were attacked with zarin gas. Are we really to believe that the whole thing was staged? That everybody was in on it – the World Health Organisation, the forensic medicine institution, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons?
Vladimir Putin: The answer is very simple and you know it: it could have been used – however, not by Assad, but by someone else in order to put the blame on Assad. So any further investigation without understanding who did it is senseless. It only plays into the hands of the provocateurs who organised this attack. That is all. What is there you cannot understand? It seems to me that everything is absolutely clear.
However, I would like to ask you a question: why didn’t they immediately go to the spot from where the chemical weapon attack had allegedly been launched? Why did nobody go to inspect the airfield? Why did nobody inspect the aircraft that had allegedly been used to carry out the strike, as we proposed? Why did nobody go to the place of the attack? The answer is simple: because they were afraid that this entire falsification would be uncovered – that is all.
As for what you are telling me, it does not convince me in the least but only goes to show that it would be far better not to indulge in speculation or a tug of war but combine efforts against real threats. We know very well what it is like. America is far away and there was a minor explosion, as a result of which, unfortunately, people were hurt at a well-known athletic event. And do you have any idea of how we have suffered here? We know full well, who we have to deal with.
Under no circumstances can anyone from this environment, which is hostile to modern civilisation, be used to address current political issues. Meanwhile, sometimes we see such attempts: “Let’s use these and those to fight Assad.” Why these and those? Because there is nobody else who can fight. Once you use them today, you will never know what will happen to you tomorrow. Then they will start fighting you.
At one time, Al-Qaeda was created to fight against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. And then Al-Qaeda carried out the 9/11 attacks in the United States. This is what this can lead to. It is important to think about the possible long-term consequences.